True location-based marketing requires location-based thinking
The other day, I went grocery shopping. As I headed out the door, I frantically searched in vain for a reusable cloth bag to take to the store. It occurred to me that in the span of nine months, I’d adopted a habit of my new hometown that would have been laughed at in the city I’d moved from. Back there, real men don’t carry reusable bags into grocery stores.
The Internet has broken down our communications borders. But does regionalism still play a role in marketing? Should big, national brands focus more on their customers’ local differences? Is our industry up to such a complicated task?
I once had a client that operated a business with multiple locations around the country. While the national clients were always looking for economies of scale from our work (i.e., run the same campaign everywhere to save money), the regional marketing directors always insisted that what worked in Chicago wouldn’t work in Louisiana or Kansas. It didn’t matter that from an age/income perspective, the customers were similar.
Regionalism still has a role to play in marketing. But it’s often subject to the imperfect perceptions we have of our audiences. You even see it within our industry: I watched a recent episode of “The Pitch” where the CEO of an LA-based agency referred to his Omaha-based competition as “rural.”
What startled me about that comment is that people in our business should be keenly aware of how different parts of America — and the world — are from each other. Advertising and marketing professionals, I think, are more mobile than most of the population. Transient, in many cases. We’ll move most anywhere for a great opportunity. It’s important for us to remember that most Americans aren’t nearly as mobile. Family and regional ties remain strong, and plenty of people still live in the same region they grew up in.
Online and mobile marketing make regionalism both easier to deal with and harder to account for at the same time. It’s getting more convenient to look at a local blog, newspaper, or Patch site to get the flavor of a city of region. But it’s nothing compared with getting out and experiencing it. I could watch “Portlandia” all day long but still never feel the regional flavor I see when I visit that city.
However, I’ve often been impressed when I’ve seen online work that targets users based on their location. It’s a powerful tool — if applied correctly. I find it less creepy that marketers know me by where I am than when they try to match me to my web surfing or shopping history. But knowing an audience’s location is only one component of creating a relevant message.
As an industry, we like to keep it simple whenever possible. We still long for one answer to marketing problems and search high and low for “the big idea.” And while there’s a growing chorus of folks who believe in lots of little ideas, that’s a messy proposition for marketers and their agencies to pull off. Whenever I’ve worked on assignments for national brands, there’s very rarely a regional breakdown in consumer mindset. It’s simply not high on our priorities list.
Proximity, to both our clients and our audience, isn’t a barrier to doing great work. Agencies in New York City can handle accounts for suburban chain restaurants, and agencies in Middle America (or in another country) can create work that resonates with different regions. But it requires getting accurate perceptions of the audience, not making guesses and resorting to stereotypes.
Maybe my new corner of America has changed me. My outlook has certainly been broadened, and new experiences always sharpen one’s skills. So I’d love your perspective as well. If you need me, I’ll be sorting out the compost from the recycling, being careful not to mix it all in with the regular trash. It’s just what we do out here.
Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small.
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